Tunnelvision, a parking lot fantasy.
Tunnelvision, a parking lot fantasy.


Field review by the editors.

Columbia, South Carolina

Until 1974, "Blue Sky" was an artist named Warren Edward Johnson who painted on canvas and lived in Columbia, South Carolina. Then he decided to change his name... and that's when the idea for Tunnelvision came to him in a dream: an outdoor wall-size mural of the setting -- or possibly rising -- sun, visible through a highway tunnel blasted out of solid rock.

Sky applied to the South Carolina Arts Commission several times before the Commission accepted his concept design, but it wouldn't fund the project (At the time, there wasn't a single outdoor mural anywhere in South Carolina). So Sky approached a downtown bank. It wouldn't fund the artwork, either, but the bank did agree to let Sky paint the mural on one of its outside walls -- under the condition that Sky would paint it over if the bank didn't like it, and that he wasn't a communist.

by Blue Sky, 1975.

Sky eventually got $3,000 from the Arts Commission, went to work in February 1975, and completed the trompe-l'oeil mural in October of that year. It was an instant sensation. He told People magazine in February 1976 that, "I wanted to do in art what Beethoven had done in music... go right through to the next dimension."

With Tunnelvision's photorealism and forced perspective, it does look invitingly three-dimensional. Sky's carefully chosen wall, facing a parking lot instead of a main thoroughfare, probably saved countless lives. Confused drivers might have otherwise plowed straight into the artwork.

Neither the city nor the bank ever asked Blue Sky to remove Tunnelvision, and it has over the years become the city's best known work of public art. Thanks in part to the success of Tunnelvision, Columbia now has many outdoor murals. And Sky has restored and repainted Tunnelvision a half-dozen times over the years, each time adding or modifying subtle details.


1550 Marion St., Columbia, SC
Taylor and Marion Streets, just a few feet away from the Busted Plug.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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